Britain’s William McGregor came to Toronto carrying the torch brought by William Oldroyd in 2016 with Lady Macbeth and last year by Michael Pearce with Beast. Starring Eleanor Worthington-Cox, his feature debut Gwen landed in the Discovery section, where it drew praise for its bold fusion of classic period drama with subtle genre elements sometimes known as “folk horror”. “Gwen is a project that’s been evolving over the last eight years,” McGregor explained when he came by the Deadline studio with his young star. “It came out of a short film I made, called Who’s Afraid Of The Water Sprite, as a student. It’s a kind of dark, pastoral, Thomas Hardy-esque, landscape-driven narrative about a young girl growing up in difficult circumstances. It’s her coming of age story really.”
Speaking highly of Worthington-Cox, a rising new star with a screen presence not unlike The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy, McGregor explained what he was looking for in the casting process. “With a character like Gwen,” he said, “you need someone who is able to start out on a journey with sort of innocence and wide-eyed hope and then have the ability to take that on and see this person go through so much that their character totally shifts. And, in meeting Eleanor, I realized she had that ability to take that character on that journey. And also to put up with all the modern wind and rain and cold conditions of shooting a film.”
That’s putting it mildly: the shoot was repeatedly interrupted by freak weather conditions, including flooding, 75mph winds and blizzards. “We shot on location in Snowdonia [in northwest Wales] in November and December,” McGregor noted, “so any complaints we have about the weather are entirely our own fault.”
See more from McGregor and Worthington-Cox in the video above.